Eran Scaerf

Galerie Elisabeth Kaufmann

Eran Schaerf’s work seems slick at first, but its formal basis in the design aesthetic of lifestyle magazines belies a dense network of themes and combinations of media that render it less rapidly consumed than much current art. “Index of Distances,” the title of his recent exhibition, suggests both the plural nature of the world we live in and an artistic attempt to measure and comprehend the gaps between different spheres. Fashion shoots jostle with sepia photographs of city streets, media reports lapse into fictive accounts, and rules concerning a competition for urban planning in Berlin are juxtaposed with a drawing from Art Spiegelman’s Maus and a ’60s lighting advertisement. The work denies us a definitive frame of reference—either visually or conceptually—leaving us suspended in the spaces between signifiers. Ultimately it is about the search for meaning itself, and Schaerf’s talent lies in making the potential associations compelling enough for us to want to be engaged in that cognitive process.

Private Ad, 2002, was the toughest work in the exhibition. Displayed on the inside window against blinds closed to the street, five posters exploiting varying graphic styles were connected through their different perspectives on military activity. A photograph of three masked men was accompanied by the caption “People should find the hunted man likeable. We also want to avoid suddenly having everyone run around in camouflage pants.” Another poster describing Israeli boys disguised as Palestinian women blends reality and fiction, West Bank politics and media cynicism. The throwaway comment in its text that the boys could equally well be posing for photographs as soldiers leaves the viewer stranded between black humor and the unreliability of reportage.

Installed opposite Private Ad, Portable Sky, 2003, combined a blue voile curtain with a silent video entitled Record: I Love You, 1999, shown on a monitor. Depicting a couple dancing, the video was made by an upturned camera in the man’s hand that recorded the performers’ reflections in circular mirrors on two drop ceilings. The contrast between the gentle lyricism of Portable Sky and the aggressiveness of Private Ad is typical of the material and thematic layering that characterizes Schaerf’s exhibitions as well as the internal structure of individual pieces.

The most prominent work in the exhibition was Migrants & Variants, 2002, sixteen digital photographs grouped into sets of four, which record two of Schaerf’s slide installations. In them, material taken from the English fashion magazine Line—shots of models, archival photographs of Stockholm, fragments of text, and the peppering of green “design effect” stripes and numerals—was projected onto white curtains. The photographs layer and collage details of the projected material with images of the dense spatial environment they originally created.

In working only with appropriated photographs and text, transferring these to new contexts and recycling the material both within and between works, Schaerf draws attention to the way society is overburdened with constantly replaceable images. The manipulation that lies at the heart of his practice—of sources, the gallery space, and the viewer—is ultimately, however, an inclusive strategy, balancing dead ends with freewheeling associations, our ability to see beyond the intended message with our willingness to invent our own stories from the material.

Felicity Lunn